Would you be surprised to learn that one of the most widely planted red wine grape varieties in the world, with over a half a million acres, is responsible for some of the most delicious and most expensive wine in the world?
Grenache or Garnacha is an unlikely hero of a grape. Until recently, reviled or (at best) ignored in much of the world, it is the grape chiefly responsible for two of the world’s more celebrated reds, Châteauneuf-du-Pape ($50) and, a more recent star from Spain, Priorat ($60). Grenache is just as important in the wine world as Cabernet Sauvignon.
Extremely food-friendly, it can be paired with a wide range of foods, like eggs, mushrooms, and especially meats (beef, pork, lamb, and chicken), Manchego cheese, bread, and olives. For those with a sweet tooth, pair it with a dark chocolate dessert.
It ripens late so it needs hot, dry conditions. Grenache is a vigorous and hardy vine with a strong wooden frame, often grown as free-standing bush vines. It is resistant to wind and drought, making it suitable for use in arid climates in California and South Australia. Because it is often grown in hot environments, the alcohol levels of Grenache-based wines can be very high, often surpassing 15% ABV. Some Australian winemakers use Grenache as the base for fortified, Port-style wines, but its most common use in the country is in the GSM blend; the classic combo of Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvedre.
So what does Grenache taste like? A fruit roll-up with cinnamon comes to mind. It is generally spicy, berry-flavored and soft on the palate with relatively high alcohol content. Flavor profiles include red fruit flavors (raspberry and strawberry) with hints of white pepper anise, tobacco, citrus rind, cinnamon and spice notes. Depending on where it’s grown, Grenache often gives aromas of orange rind and ruby-red grapefruit. As Grenache ages, the wines tend to take on more leather and tar flavors. It has a medium to full weight in taste but is lighter in color. Grenache wines are highly prone to oxidation with even young wines having the potential to show browning coloration that can be noticed around the rim when looking at the wine at an angle in the glass. That is normal and not to worry.
When Grenache is grown in Old World regions such as Cotes du Rhone, it can have herbal notes of dried oregano and tobacco. In the New World, especially Australia, Grenache has been very successful making full-bodied Grenache dominated red blends. Until surpassed by plantings of merlot in the past decade, Grenache was the third most planted red variety in California, after Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon. Most of this acreage is in the Central Valley and used to produce bulk rather than premium wine. Grenache has been a minor grape variety in Washington but has seen an increase in plantings in recent years due to the “Rhone Ranger” movement in the state. Older plantings in the Horse Heaven Hills and Columbia Valley AVAs have begun to attract interest.
Over centuries, the Grenache vine has produced color mutation vines with berries of all range of colors. While Grenache noir or “red” Grenache is the most well known, Grenache blanc or “white” Grenache is a very important grape variety in France where it is the fourth-most widely planted white variety after Ugni Blanc, Chardonnay and Semillon. Like Grenache noir, it is a permitted variety in the blends of Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc ($50); which, by the way, is another of my favorites. In Southern France, the mutants Grenache Rose and Grenache Gris are also found making pale rosé and lightly tinted white wines.
So whatever your price range or style – red, white, blends, rosé – Grenache has got you covered. Give them a try.